So, I played Emily Short's new multiplayer IF game Aspel
today. Overall, I'd say it was fantastic! There were a couple hitches in the tour I did, but they didn't let down what was an amazing experience.
But first, some background: Aspel was made in a Myst-themed hypertext MUD called Seltani
, created by Andrew Plotkin in 2013. In Seltani, there's a main pane with a few paragraphs of description and links; the links may lead to actions, which will be displayed in the chat pane; movement, which brings you to a new place; and examination, which brings up a new pane of description which may have links of its own. It's easier to grasp than I'm likely making it seem. Aspel may have been the result of a discussion about how to make a good multiplayer puzzle game in Seltani
(among other things), but Emily may have been working on it before that. (I could see it going either way.) Anyway, today at about 3 PM Eastern she hosted a tour of her world.
At first things were very hectic (there were a lot of us and this game doesn't scale to large groups well), but after splitting us into two groups, one to tour after the other, things settled down, and we began to tackle the game in earnest. You begin Aspel in a hot air balloon with your fellow players, trying to figure out how to get past the first puzzle (being vague to avoid spoilers). Here you and the other players each pick a class out of three, and whatever your class is determines your role in the game. There's a lot to do in the balloon besides that first puzzle, and even though I'm not sure how much of it was necessary, it did a lot to set up the atmosphere.
After getting past the first puzzle, you and the other players must then explore a long-abandoned castle, figuring out what to tell your queen to do with it. This is the real heart of the game, and outside of the overcrowded intro, where we ran into the most problems: things can get pretty confusing here if you split up (one of the bigger clues about the story was, er, eaten by another player before most of us could get there), so if you're playing with friends, you might want to stick together at this part. There's a lot of cool background detail here, some of which you'll miss if you're not working together. After exploring the castle and collecting information, you and the other players come to a vote about the castle's fate, after which... well, I don't want to spoil it for you, so let's just say you'll want to cast your vote early.
The game was a pretty great experience, but if I had to name one flaw, it'd be that some classes feel a little unbalanced in terms of what they can or can't do. I was an engineer, so I could have driven the balloon if I wanted to, but once we reached the castle I felt a little frustrated that most of the juicy bits of information were doled out to one of the other classes, the scholars. And I'm still not clear on what exactly it was that soldiers did. But this really doesn't impact the game much as long as you're not playing with jerks.
Overall, I had a great time, and if you're searching for other players to play this with, Emily Short is holding another tour on Sunday, April 19th 8 PM British/3 PM Eastern/Noon Pacific. (See the Spring Thing page
for more details.) Maybe I'll see you there?